This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
When the credits rolled on 1986’s Aliens, the inevitable question from many moviegoers was, “What happens next?”
For 20th Century Fox, and writer-producers David Giler and Walter Hill, it took nearly six years to figure out an answer to that question. Certainly when Aliens was in production, director James Cameron had some ideas about a sequel; he once spoke about the prospect of Ripley, Hicks, and young Newt – a makeshift family thrown together by that film’s events – meeting up again for a second sequel to Alien.
“I know that James Cameron had planned to have Hicks, Ripley and me in Alien 3, to have a family-type thing,” Newt actress Carrie Henn said in 1995.
A year after Aliens came out, Cameron was unequivocal about leaving the Alien universe behind. But in a 1987 issue of Starlog Magazine, he did mention in passing his ideas about what Alien 3 would – or, rather would not – entail. “It’s not in the goddamned cat and it’s not in Newt, either,” he wrote, in response to the question of how the xenomorphs would have survived the cataclysmic explosion at the end of Aliens. “I would never be that cruel…”
In fact, Aliens and Ridley Scott’s original Alien left Alien 3‘s producers in a situation akin to performance anxiety. How do you follow up two classic movies with something equally fresh and successful, from a creative standpoint? It didn’t help that just about everyone – from Fox executives down to fans who’d flocked to Aliens – wanted to see a sequel more than Giler and Hill did.
“We weren’t that enthused,” Giler said in 2003. “David and I were a bit sick of it,” Hill later added. Sigourney Weaver, whose presence in the franchise was almost as pivotal as the title monster, wasn’t enthusiastic about doing a third film, either. But commerce required that Alien 3 be made, and with gritted teeth, Giler and Hill began hunting around for ideas.
Of course, we all know what happened in the end: Alien 3 finally emerged in cinemas in 1992, the directorial debut of David Fincher, and a film that he’s still reluctant to discuss in public to this day. But before Alien 3 came out, a welter of sequel ideas were flung around offices and writers’ rooms – some inspired, some ridiculous.
To date, they remain as mere concepts or discarded scripts, and it’s likely that many more remain tucked away in a cupboard somewhere, still to see the light of day. For now, here are some of the unused Alien 3 ideas that we currently know about.
Aliens head to Earth
Before Alien 3 was released, a teaser trailer was put out by Fox. “In 1992, on Earth, we will discover that everyone can hear you scream” went its somewhat clunky narration, as an alien egg was shown hovering over the luminous bulk of our planet.
That the aliens would eventually end up on Earth seemed logical enough from a story point-of-view; villainous corporation Weyland-Yutani had long been intent on acquiring a xenomorph, after all, and the idea had already been pursued in the Aliens series of Dark Horse comic books.
According to a 1992 issue of Cinescape magazine, one of the earliest ideas for Alien 3 indeed saw the Earth visited by a swarm of dreaded Starbeasts. This time, however, the aliens would fuse into what the publication described as “a giant, multi-talented monster that destroys New York City.”
Exactly what “multi-talented” means isn’t clear (could the giant alien tap-dance?), but the idea, which sounds more like a Godzilla-like kaiju movie than an Alien sequel, was thankfully dropped.
Alien meets Blade Runner
Another idea, seemingly explored in the very earliest stages of Alien 3‘s production in the 1980s, was of Ripley and Newt ending up in a futuristic metropolis – albeit one on another planet, not Earth – where they hunted an “especially mobile creature” around the city sprawl.
If the concept sounds a bit like Alien meets Blade Runner, this might be because the concept surfaced around the time Ridley Scott was being courted to return as director. Unfortunately for Fox, Scott was already embroiled in a number of projects in the late ’80s – he’d just completed the thriller Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), and was preparing to film Black Rain (1989) and road-trip drama Thelma And Louise (1991).
Two Sequels, and a Screenplay by William Gibson
In one early concept, Giler and Hill envisioned a story which would take place over two films. In the first, Michael Biehn would take the lead as Hicks while Ripley would spend the entirety of the story in hypersleep and Newt would be sent back to the safety of Earth. The second film would have seen Ripley revived for another fight with her mortal enemy, the aliens.
Although Giler and Hill’s specific plans for Alien 4 remain hazy, their ideas for Alien 3 were explored at length, with famed sci-fi writer William Gibson hired to write two drafts of the script.
Gibson’s version of the story sees the Sulaco picked up by an insular colony of people calling themselves The Union of Progressive Peoples. A communist group locked in a cold war with Weyland-Yutani, the UPP live on a remote station “the size of a small moon.” Having boarded the Sulaco, the UPP find and capture the damaged remains of Bishop, before sending the ship on its way when they’re attacked by a facehugger hidden in Bishop’s hypersleep chamber.
The Sulaco is subsequently brought back to Anchorpoint, an outpost in an area of space owned by Weyland-Yutani. Hicks is awakened to learn that he’s in the middle of a diplomatic crisis: the Sulaco‘s brief presence in UPP-controlled space being enough, it seems, to trigger the spectre of all-out war. Meanwhile, the seemingly omnipresent alien is about to introduce some complications of its own, as the UPP have acquired xenomorph DNA and recognize that it could be turned into a deadly weapon.
Weyland-Yutani, of course, are keen to harness the power of the alien themselves, and begin to fraternize with its DNA in the hope of creating a weapon of their own. Inevitably, their experiments go wrong, and Anchorpoint is quickly overwhelmed by screeching aliens.
Gibson’s first draft for Alien 3 contains a number of new ideas – such as infectious gas seeping from alien eggs, and a new form of queen that also emits a gassy mutagen – but certain portions of the story read like fairly straight retreads of scenes from Alien. Towards the end of the script, Hicks leads a group of barely-trained young Colonial Marines into an alien nest where they fight the flatulent queen mentioned above.
It’s a violent, chaotic script and probably too expensive for Fox to have committed to film in the late 1980s. Certainly, Gibson’s second Alien 3 draft reduced the scale significantly, cutting down the number of aliens (the queen and grunt Colonial Marines are absent), and altering Anchorpoint from a bustling station to a largely deserted, semi-derelict outpost.
Ultimately, Gibson’s scripts were simply added to the growing pile of drafts accumulated by Alien 3‘s producers between 1986 and 1992. Gibson later commented that the idea of a human head tattooed with a barcode was the only thing to make it into the Alien universe, but elements from his drafts appeared to inform subsequent films; the alien experiments were later seen in Alien: Resurrection while the infectious, mutagen gas made its way into Prometheus.
Eric Red’s Mutant Animals and Rural Aliens
Alien 3‘s producers may have been indecisive about what direction the story should take, but they were in agreement about one thing: Alien 3 should offer something different from the familiar, metallic corridors seen in its predecessors.
One solution came from the typewriter of Eric Red, the screenwriter behind such cult classics as The Hitcher and Near Dark. His draft, dating from 1989, was written when Renny Harlin had been brought aboard as director – one of several filmmakers who would come and go during Alien 3‘s tumultuous production.
In Red’s screenplay, the action takes place on an orbiting space station that looks uncannily like the American mid-west in the 20th century – or, to put it another way, like the third act space station seen in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. There are wheat fields, grain silos, a drive-in movie theater, and even windmills.
The protagonist is a new one: an amnesiac soldier named Sam Smith who wakes up one morning with a robot arm. Sam, we learn, was one of a detachment of grunts who explored the drifting Sulaco, which has somehow become overrun by aliens. Keen to learn more, Sam sneaks into a military base and discovers that a scientist named Doctor Rand has been busily carrying out experiments on the xenomorphs – in one scene, Sam discovers a pen full of animal-alien hybrids, including dogs, cats, pigs, and chickens.
As if that doesn’t sound outlandish enough, Red’s Alien 3 script also contained a zero-gravity sex scene, a Gremlins-like sequence where an alien gets its arm stuck in a waste-disposal unit, and a moment where the protagonist’s mother, Mary, slaughters an alien with a chainsaw. Then there’s a creature dubbed “The Alien Human Thing,” and finally, the entire space station transforms into a 50-story alien.
Red later explained that he’d rushed through the writing of his Alien 3 draft within a few weeks, such was the rush to turn the results of various story meetings and producer notes into something approaching a rough draft. At any rate, Red’s script – which has all the gore and salacious detail of a straight-to-video B-movie – joined the growing stack of abandoned drafts. “It was a real disaster,” Sigourney Weaver said of Red’s script. “Absolutely dreadful.”
David Twohy’s Orbiting Prison
Two years into Alien 3‘s pre-production, Giler and Hill found themselves more-or-less back where they’d started. Eric Red’s “absolutely dreadful” draft had resulted in both his departure and the loss of director Rennie Harlin, who’d grown restless and went off to make Die Hard 2. Wondering where they could go next, the producers hired screenwriter David Twohy (Critters 2) who spent six months reworking elements of William Gibson’s drafts into something Alien-shaped.
For the first time, we see something approaching the final Alien 3. At least in the broad strokes. Twohy’s script takes place on a space station orbiting Earth – a prison facility called Moloch Island. With Ripley and the rest of Aliens‘ surviving cast still absent, the story is told from the perspective of a newly-arrived prisoner named Styles and a group of other fresh inmates.
As well as a prison facility, Moloch Island is also the venue for a series of hideous experiments. Years earlier, a facehugger (trapped in amber, Jurassic Park-style) had been discovered by a space miner and handed over to the xenomorph-obsessed company. Styles eventually learns that inmates are being experimented on in a hidden lab, and that the company now has the ability to grow aliens from scratch in a special chamber.
What follows is an amalgam of the kind of monsters-in-corridors action familiar from earlier Alien entries and a prison break movie, with Styles and his compatriots searching for a way off the station as a small group of xenomorphs starts to tear the place apart. Twohy had, it seemed, arrived at a workable scenario: one self-contained enough to generate the suspense critical to a good Alien movie, and also different in look and feel from 1979’s Nostromo or 1986’s Hadley’s Hope.
There was, however, a small problem: Fox president Joe Roth demanded that Ripley return to the franchise. “This is a great script, but I won’t make this film without Sigourney,” Roth said. “She is the centrepiece of the series.”
With Weaver coaxed back into the lead, Twohy started work on another rewrite, this time featuring Ripley on the prison planet. Now all the production needed was a director.
Vincent Ward’s Wooden Planet
Hailing from New Zealand, Vincent Ward had recently directed a feature film called The Navigator (1988). Screened at Cannes and praised for its surreal and often beautiful imagery, it quickly caught the attention of Walter Hill. Here, perhaps, was the director he’d been searching for all along.
There was, however, a problem. Ward was an independent filmmaker with little interest in directing a Hollywood tentpole. When he read Twohy’s Alien 3 script, he was even less interested. Seemingly desperate to have Ward onboard, the producers gave him the freedom to come up with his own screenplay. Finally, Ward relented.
Fascinated by medieval imagery and folklore (as well as making The Navigator, partly set in the 14th century, he’d also written a book on the subject called Edge of the Earth), Ward came up with a new concept based on his own interests. Ward imagined an orbiting station with an outer layer of wood. Here, a group of monks lived a simple life away from the evils of technology. And when Ripley lands on the planet in an escape vessel, the horrors she brings with her are, from the monks’ perspective, straight from the depths of hell: the chestburster erupts from its victims like a demon. The full-grown alien is regarded as a dragon, or perhaps even the Devil himself.
The world depicted in Ward’s story is surreal yet fully-formed: we see monks blowing glass. There’s a huge library. At the top of the station lies an artificial sea, the thin atmosphere providing an unbroken window out onto the stars. Assuming Ward’s techno-medieval setting could have been realized at all with early-1990s effects, it could have been a captivating one, though some of his other story ideas – such as a woolly xenomorph hatching from a sheep – are admittedly a bit too outlandish for comfort.
Nevertheless, many of the ideas in this draft, conceived by Ward and written by John Fasano, would make it into the final version of Alien 3 released in 1992. The notion of an order of monks in space – who, we later learn, are also prisoners – was kept, as was the location’s lack of firearms. Ripley’s been written back into the story, because by this point Sigourney Weaver had been convinced to return to the franchise. As in David Fincher’s film, Ripley has been impregnated by an alien in this draft, and the story as a whole has a fiery, apocalyptic tone that would remain in subsequent screenplays.
Ward’s script was also the origin of a particularly controversial plot point: that Ripley is the only survivor of the events in Aliens. Hicks and Bishop die aboard the stricken Sulaco, while Newt is killed when the escape vessel crashes on the monks’ wooden planet. It’s a cruel, almost casual end for the characters, and the conclusion of a common theme through the Alien 3 drafts we currently know about: all of them try to find some way of getting rid of Newt, either by packing her off to Earth or simply leaving her out altogether.
Ward and Fasano’s first draft was completed in late March 1990, by which point it seemed as though production company Brandywine were ready to go into full production. Concept art had been drawn and sets had even begun to be built. But at the same time, executives still had misgivings over Ward’s wooden planet concept. Why would its builders ship all that timber out into space? Couldn’t it just be a standard prison colony, like the one in Twohy’s script? One executive at Fox dismissed the wooden planet as “artsy fartsy.”
Frustrated, Ward decided to bow out of the production.
The Fight to the Finish
With Ward being the latest in Alien 3‘s succession of writers and directors, Hill and Giler began to rewrite Fasano’s script themselves. By this point, the repeatedly delayed Alien 3 was beginning to approach its shoot date, and time was running out. A script doctor, Larry Ferguson, had been hired to write his own draft, but Weaver complained that the dialogue he wrote for Ripley made her sound like a “pissed-off gym instructor.”
First-time director David Fincher was brought aboard amid the chaos and found himself struggling to have his own ideas accepted as the start date loomed. Even when filming began in January 1991, pages of the script were still being rewritten, a process which continued even as scenes were going before cameras. It was a trial by fire for Fincher, as he oversaw 16-hour-long shoot days during the week and worked on revisions to the script in what little time he had left.
By the time Alien 3 arrived in theaters in 1993, it had cost Fox over $50 million to make – more than twice as much as Aliens had devoured six years earlier – largely due to the constant struggle to agree on what direction its story should take. The resulting film is a patchwork of ideas taken from previous drafts; ultimately, Alien 3‘s story was credited to Vincent Ward, but elements from earlier screenplays are also present, from the animal-derived Alien suggested by Eric Red’s ill-received script to the prison colony in Twohy’s draft.
A struggle from its earliest conception to its release, Alien 3‘s production wasn’t unlike the gestation of a xenomorph: slow, painful, and often downright ugly. The process resulted in a veritable mountain of scripts and half-formed ideas – some, such as Vincent Ward’s wooden planet, still capturing the imagination today, while others – like an alien with its hand trapped in a waste-disposal unit – remaining firmly on the printed page.